Stringing a steel string guitar – how to

Pix courtesy: sweetwater

A young customer, a student, recently messaged me asking me to teach him how to restring a guitar.

While I thought about how to explain to him, I also wondered that often, we talk about big issues, leaving the simplest and the most essential things unexplained. So, I decided that in this blog post, I will describe how ‘I’ restring a guitar.

It is essential to understand here that there are many ways in which people string up guitars. As long as the strings don’t slip out of the tuning post, or lose tuning, all those methods are correct.

But first a little look at guitar anatomy.

Pix courtesy:

To take off the old strings, loosen the tuning keys (machine heads) enough and then using the notch in your string-winder, pull out the bridgepins. Do be careful about keeping the bridgepins in order, remembering which pin came out of which hole because not all strings are of similar diameter. Once a pin becomes used to a certain string size, it will not seat properly with any other string size.

Pix courtesy: tabs4acousticBefore you keep away those pins, I urge you to take a look at them.

If they look anything like the bridgepin on the top, you need to file it, at say, a 45° angle – like the lower of the two bridgepins. A simple hobby file will help you accomplish the task. And why should you do this?
Filing the bridgepin like this will help seat the ball-end of the string right against the bridge-plate (which is right under the top, under the bridge), as it should be, rather than it getting caught at the end of the pin. The ball-end of the string stuck on the end of the bridgepin can makes a huge difference in sound transfer. It can also move while you tune/ untune a string, making it slam against the bridge-plate, damaging it.

Here is a diagram to understand it better:

Pix courtesy: thegearpage

With the old strings off, now is the best time to give a good cleaning and rub to your guitar – especially those areas that become inaccessible with strings around – the headstock and the area between the soundhole and the bridge that comes right under the strings.

With everything dust-free and clean and with the hardware at the headstock given a little tightening, it’s time to string ‘er up!

Pull out your strings and right at the ball-end of each, pinch between the forefinger and thumb and bend it 90°. You don’t have to measure with a protractor, even a small bend will do.

This done, put each string in its hole – say a couple of inches – and close it by pushing in its respective bridgepin. Remember the groove in the bridgepin is to accommodate the string. So, when you are putting in the pin, the groove should be facing the string.

As you push down on the pin, pull up on the string. Keep pulling up till the string stops coming up. This means that is seated against the bridge-plate.

With all six strings pinned in the bridge, one end of the problem is tackled. Now to look at the headstock. Remember, you have to thread the strings from inside the tuning post, not the outside – as shown in the diagram below.

Pix courtesy: hazeguitars

Then turn the tuning machines in such a manner that the hole in them faces the general direction from which the string will come into them.

At the headstock, I divide the strings into sets of three. So, I have three thick strings – E, A, D – and three thin strings – G, B, e. For the two sets of strings, I follow two different methods to wind.


The bass strings (E, A, D)

These being thick and pretty stiff, I just measure up to the next post and snip it off. So, for example, I am winding the E string, I will measure till the A-string tuning post and cut it off there, as shown in the screenshot below.

Slip in the string into the E-string machine post and just let a mm or two stick out. Then, using your string winder, start winding, even as you hold on firmly to the string. As it winds and starts getting tight to hold, place it in its slot in the nut and tighten – not too much, but just enough to keep it from slipping out of its slot on the nut.

Follow the same procedure with the A and D strings.
But why cut off the strings? Why not let them be?
Because when they look like this

you know that you are looking at a monster!!!!
Do me a favour. Go to Google, and type ‘acoustic guitar headstock’. Find me one photograph that looks like this. My guess is that you won’t find one!
Now go, right on the top of this post and look at the main photograph. That is taken from the Gibson website. THAT is how acoustic guitar headstocks are supposed to look.


The treble strings (G, B, e)

For the treble strings, I start with the ‘e’ string. Here, I don’t measure and cut before hand but just slip the string in the tuning post.

  1. Then with your right hand, pull back about 5″ of string.

2) Turn the free end inwards towards the ‘E’ string

3) Lifting the string with your right hand (the one over the fretboard), pull the free end under it

4) So, what you should have, is the string running over the fretboard in your right hand, and its end, turned inwards and under it and over it.


5) Pull the string across as shown by the arrow. What this does, is to lock the string in place.

6) Now, you can take your string winder and wind the string completely. Do not forget to ensure that it sits in its slot on the nut.

Likewise, wind the B string. All photos to demonstrate the treble strings’ winding are screenshots of a YouTube video by ‘Acoustic Life’.

For the G string, I follow this method or what I do with the bass strings – depending upon my mood at that time. You too, are free to do as you please.

But whether it is the bass strings or the treble strings, string winds on the tuning machine post should come from the top to the bottom. The angle that creates, helps in excellent sound transfer.

Pix courtesy: fineartamerica

Once the strings have been wound, tune up the guitar. After you have tuned it up, hold each string between your thumb and forefinger around the 12th fret and give it a healthy pull. Don’t worry! Except for the G string and the ‘e’ string, there is no fear of them breaking.

You may hold it at the nut as shown in the picture below.

Pic courtesy: theguitarjournal

Strings are not used to the tension they are put under. When you first tune up your guitar with new strings, the tendency of the strings is to try and return to their original position. AND THAT IS WHY new strings go out of tune and you end up thinking that there is something wrong with your guitar!!!

Once you have done that, tune up your guitar again. Again give the strings a good tug. It will go out of tune again. Tune it up again. Again give them a tug and tune up again!!

Once you have done this exercise at least four times – properly – I doubt if your strings will go out of tune again, just standing.


Amit Newton

An experienced guitar tech with over 10 years of experience working on acoustic Gibsons and Martins in the Gulf region. There is nothing that cannot be repaired; the only consideration is the price at which it comes. And yet, if there is sentiment attached, no price is too high! WhatsApp/Call me: 7080475556 email me:

5 thoughts to “Stringing a steel string guitar – how to”

  1. Point taken about snipping the extra long stretch of string. Looks neat. But, our generation inherited the ‘hoarder’ tag from our scrimpy parents!
    About the slipping of strings soon after re-stringing or while playing soon after – It seems only natural that we must ‘break’ them in! So rubbing them up and down sometimes may serve the purpose, too.

    1. Eggjackly!!!!
      Snip ’em and stretch ’em!
      Stretch-tune-stretch-tune- again stretch and tune and they are road ready!!!

      Play them…all night long!!!!
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. String repair is a critical repair for a guitar. I want to learn it and this article fulfils my requirement. I have repaired the Gibson bridge ( part and saddle parts of my own guitar. It is very good to learn a guitar and its anatomy as well. I didn’t have any idea about string repair before reading this article. Now I have sufficient information on this.

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